The Murderbot Diaries - All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Price - £2.22 ebook (out now) £8.99 paperback
In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied securirty androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn't a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied 'droid a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as 'Murderbot'. Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is. But when a neighbouring mission goes dark, its up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to them.
I'm sure you like I have never have an urge to watch our favourite TV shows rather than work in the office and interact with colleagues. Ahem....look who doesn't want to just finally tidy up their Netflix list...anyway...oh yes the book. Murderbot I think is one of the most enaging action SF novellas I've read in ages and presents you with a fascinating character while also dropping you into a dangerous planet where not just the wildlife is out to kill.
This is a first person tale told through the eyes of a security android a mesh of organic and robotic parts with internalised weapons, computer brain, super strength and an ability to take serious damage and all to protect whoever the Company assign to her. While she may have a human face she is part of a long production line of unemotional squads assigned throughout the galaxy. Except no one has realised that after a disaster involving Murderbot a few years ago she has vowed never to be under direct Company control again and as a consequence now has her own view on following orders combined with a desire to avoid humans and just watch all her stored episodes of a soap space opera.
The character of Murderbot is the major selling point of the story. We are plunged immediately into her narrating a rescue attempt demonstrating both her abilities and apparent lack of humanity although not shy of throwing herself into the action she is equally loathe to give anything away about herself to her human partybut when needed can take charge in a crisis. She hides behind a securirty visor and anytime her human face is on display makes her feel vulnerable. As the story progresses we find more about her history and I wondered if we were seeing a person who's past trauma had led to a form of depression or PTSD that she is trying to overcome. That feeling of just wanting to lose yourself in an internal world to recover while you are also under demands from work and people around you to engage with the world. Murderbot feels lost after her past and as becoming self-aware is illegal telling people about it would lead to the wiping of her memory she can't tell anyone what she is thinking. This makes her a lonely figure yet she is clearly the most experienced person to lead her party but she can't show them why
This causes issues as the scientists she is assigned to find a number of strange issues suggest their group and a rival team may be being targeted by som ething or someone. As Murderbot is seen as a corporate tool (and if you work for a SF Company known as The Company this must mean bad things) then she finds herself under suspicion. Is she even aware of what she is doing herself?
That internal battle between personalities is nicely balanced with some beautifully told action sequences where we get to see Murderbot's phycial strength and cunning comes into play. She takes damage and makes mistakes but she keeps on going and that's admirable. A great force to be reckoned with which combined with a snarky narration makes for a fast-paced read. My only issue is none of the other characters really do much more in the story than serve's Murderbot's own tale but as she is such an engaging voice that wasn't too bad a trade!
I'm very pleased to know more diary entries are coming out next year and I am hoping to find out a lot more about both where the Murderbot came from and where she is going to.